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Bill Lynch: County controls Sonoma Valley vaccine distribution

I left the Jan. 12 online town hall meeting presented by Sonoma Valley Hospital with my primary questions unanswered. I wasn’t alone.

The questions included: When, where and how will we get our COVID-19 vaccinations here in Sonoma Valley. Who will tell us how and where we can sign up or make an appointment? When will we know this? Where will we go?

So far, control remains in Santa Rosa rather than here with the Sonoma Valley Health Care District and local doctors. As of Jan. 15, even they did not have details of an actual general public distribution plan in Sonoma Valley.

Despite knowing such a plan was needed, county health officials didn’t make one. There was a general idea that doctors in private practice would get vaccines to administer, but there was no overall coordination proposal.

This left local residents who are not part of Kaiser, Sutter or some other larger health care system, in the dark about where to find information about when, where and from whom they would get a vaccination.

As I was composing this column, I was also asking local hospital leaders those questions. Sadly, they were in the dark with the rest of us.

Finally, Sunday morning, Jan. 17, I got an email from 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, saying the county “is organizing a distribution site for vaccines in the valley. It will be announced shortly.” I appreciate Supervisor Gorin’s email, but the question remains, why is the county so late at planning this? In spite of all the vaccine supply questions, the organization, venue and other details could have been set up in advance, pending arrival of the actual supplies. Of course, distribution will be based on age, vulnerability and other factors, but how local residents in those categories will be notified is still unknown.

Other health care organizations, including Kaiser, Sutter and John Muir have plans in place and are already scheduling appoints for people over 65. Napa is doing the same.

Sonoma Valley is fortunate to have a well-managed health care district and hospital, but they were not permitted to take charge of local distribution. The county for its own reasons did not seek the help of local leaders who could have pulled other local resources together to have a plan that could be put into action as soon as supplies of vaccine arrived.

As I write this, such a plan is still not in place, nor has our local hospital been given any more direction or authority to do it.

Am I wrong to think that our local health care leaders could have handled this better than the county?

My only experience with a locally managed mass vaccination effort goes all the way back to the polio epidemic.

I was a student at Prestwood Elementary School. School nurses, augmented by local hospital staff, set up in a classroom. Students were lined up and sent through one at a time to get shots. It was quick, efficient, and completed in a matter of a few hours.

While the numbers today are much larger, the fact is that Sonoma Valley does not lack for possible vaccination venues, particularly because our local schools are virtually unoccupied.

The benefit to using them is that they have lots of parking, covered walkways, and many empty classrooms in which citizens who’d been vaccinated could spend their 15 to 30 minute post-inoculation/allergic reaction wait time before leaving.

Three public schools -- Prestwood, Sassarini and Sonoma Valley High School -- are within a five-minute drive of Sonoma Valley Hospital so that staff, supplies and support do not require lengthy travel times.

My impression is that local doctors and their staffs or other local health care professionals would cooperate with and possibly even participate in such an effort if our hospital organized it.

Will be such authority given to Sonoma Valley Hospital or any other local organization here? Apparently not, but nobody will know until the county announces a plan, which they should have had in place weeks ago.

My hope is that by the time this column is published, we will know. Any kind of a plan that gets vaccine to Sonoma Valley residents quickly will be welcome.

Those who wish to can contact Supervisor Gorin at 565-2241, or by email at Susan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org.

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